In a largely successful effort to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs and other illegal substances from the bodies of its athletes, Major League Baseball utilizes a drug-testing program in conjunction with the MLB Players Association. Chiefly responsible for the current cleaner state of baseball, the program and its merits fell into the spotlight during Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun’s recent fight to clear his reputation–and the controversy made startlingly clear that today’s baseball climate still bears Steroid Era scars. Braun may have won his appeal, but everyone came out of the process a loser.
When news of Braun’s positive test leaked on December 10, 2011, fans, coaches, and teammates alike were shocked. Braun was a well-regarded young player who had just won an MVP award while playing as the face of the small-market Brewers. Immediately, Ryan declared his innocence, opining, “It’s B.S.” And, so, the baseball world was divided. Some were willing to extend the benefit of the doubt for a player who had never given reason for disdain. Others–perhaps the more vocal–jumped at the chance to lambaste any player even slightly teetering off his pedestal.
Because of those people willing to believe that banned substances are alive and well in baseball, because of the players who have taken advantage of a flawed system to get a few steps ahead, because of a test whose results should never have come to light, Braun’s fight will continue.
From the leaked positive test results to the name he may never full clear, Braun’s struggle to maintain his clean image has been an embarrassment for baseball and a clear indication of how close it remains to its shameful past. And as details emerge regarding the way the test was handled, the more disgraceful the process is revealed to have been. Braun called the testing system “fatally flawed,” and though his words may be a dramatic representation of the mud he’s been dragged through, there is some truth in them.
According to Braun, and supported by an independent arbitration panel, the outfielder’s sample was unaccounted for for nearly two days, though the administrator had ample opportunity to send it off to be stored, which would have started a documented chain of custody. Coupled with other uncertainties, and Braun’s unequivocal assertion of his innocence, the fact that the Brewers will have their MVP for all 162 makes perfect sense. If synthetic testosterone was indeed truly present in Braun’s sample, neither MLB nor the drug testing company did its due diligence in proving that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But while the onus is on those responsible for sealing up those breaches of confidentiality and documentation, the fallout and Braun’s subsequent tarnished reputation fall squarely on the deep-seated current of distrust running through baseball–no matter how many Dustin Pedroias and Matt Kemps try to wash it away. Because of this lingering fear that all heroes will one day bear asterisks next to their names, fans are sooner to jump to judgment rather than be proven naive down the line.
Maybe one day, positive test results will prompt surprise and confusion rather than disappointment and scorn. Until then, memories still fresh with remorseful press conferences and not-so-plausible denials, fans will continue to lose faith in their favorite players at the drop of a positive test leak. Though unfair, this is the climate that baseball has bred: decades of denial that should have been spent in action have created a fan base on constant alert. This time, the casualty is a young outfielder with a whole career ahead–one he will now spend shaking off the doubters.
“One of my biggest regrets about having gone through this whole situation is that I can’t ever get that time in my life back,” Braun said, speaking to media on Friday. “It should have been an amazing time in my life. My team had an incredible season last year, finished two wins short of the World Series, I had a great year individually — I should have been able to enjoy the offseason, and I didn’t.”
Every time the system fails the players, it also fails their fans. Because of a sentiment that can’t be overturned as quickly as a suspension, every positive test–false or warranted–becomes one more reminder of a time baseball is trying desperately to forget.
Braun quote as relayed by MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy here.